Show Review: Sublime and 311 at Stage AE

Back in the mid-90s, Sublime and 311 were at the top of their game. In 1995, 311 released a self-titled album that went multi-platinum, and in 1996 Sublime did the same. It was the heyday for the bands’ instantly-recognizable mix of reggae, alternative rock, ska and punk; such days are arguably no more, but the legions of fans that admired them both are still out there, and they have likely collected a few more in the years since.

A fair amount of those fans gathered on July 12 at Stage AE in Pittsburgh, PA for the fifth show of this year’s Unity Tour, which takes Sublime (now under the moniker Sublime with Rome, after a legal battle with Bradley Nowell’s family, and the addition of Rome Ramirez to its roster in 2009) and 311 cross-country through August 26. It’s the kind of tour that both bands are likely thrilled to be a part of, but also that they need in order to keep themselves in the public eye. Few bands can keep themselves going for so long (both formed in 1988), especially when their signature brand of genre-bending isn’t all that popular anymore.

Nevertheless, this new venue was packed, and there was enough energy there to prove that these musicians still have it “going on.” Most of that energy made its way close to the stage, in the pit, even during the show’s early hours (between 5:30 and 7:30) during which there was a steady trickling of tattooed and tank-topped individuals coming through security, crowding the beer vendors and staking out prime spots of real estate on the lawn. Overhead, the sky was blue and the sun was hot. Sweat and sunburns were destined to attend before long.

On stage, the crowd was kept entertained by DJ Soulman, who might be better known to some – not me – as the lead vocalist for the rap-rock group, the Phunk Junkeez. Apparently, this guy has opened for a favorite of mine, Girl Talk, but I wasn’t entirely impressed. OK, so I wasn’t at all impressed, but it seemed like a decent chunk of the crowd liked what he was offering up. Partway through his set, he started throwing out some individually-packaged sunglasses – likely stamped with a sponsor logo – not long after shouting out about his friends back at home might call him a sell-out. I don’t know where he got that idea from.

 

At around 7:30, Sublime with Rome graced the stage. Behind them, a giant tapestry of mid-90s graffiti art that displayed the band’s name in colorful swashes of yellow, red, green, orange, black and white. It felt like the mid-90s, and that’s a good thing. If there’s one thing that can be said about this show as a whole, it’s that it definitely felt nostalgic.

 

The show started off with “Smoke Two Joints,” a classic that was classically performed. It got the crowd going and started the evening off well. In the pit, some people immediately began crowd surfing, while others tossed around a big inflatable beach ball. While the song was recognizable by all, without Bradley Nowell’s vocals it was an altogether different experience. Rome isn’t necessarily untalented, but he’s also not a mimicker. He made the song his own and it was an interesting result, one that wasn’t entirely recognizable, since the rest of the bland performed the some to a T. Still, it was undoubtedly the result of Sublime with Rome, not Sublime. Unfortunately, things weren’t different enough to set this new version of the band off in its own direction.

 

Their set lasted about an hour and was peppered with Sublime hits: “What I Got,” “Wrong Way,” “Santeria,” and “Badfish.” With strong vocals, confident guitar riffs and a general laid-back swagger among the band-mates, it was an impressive performance, though it didn’t surprise or fascinate. The hits got the crowd cheering and moving more than anything, which isn’t too surprising; they’re what people know. Still, the overall effect seemed lackluster. While the pit was arms-up excited to see these guys, lots of folks on the lawn seemed less enthusiastic. There was plenty of swaying and grooving, but also enough politely-patient expressions to warrant observation. Bring on 311, they seemed to say. Bring on Nick freakin’ Hexum.

At 8:30, Sublime left the stage and the sun began to dip under the horizon. It was a nice transitional note and afforded the crowd some time to gather themselves, refuel and get ready for the main act. The setup was quick and 311 came onstage at around 9. Unlike Sublime with Rome, who seemed to show their age physically if not musically, 311 was looking good. Hexum still had boundless amounts of energy and plenty of nerdy dance moves. His voice, too, was in top shape.

The 311 set was accented with lots of running around by the two vocalists, backlighting and songs from their new album, Universal Pulse. “Sunset in July,” the main single from this album was a crowd-pleaser, as was “Rock On,” which marked the first live performance of the song. Interspersed were the more well-known 311 songs: “Transistor,” “Come Original,” “Flowing,” and “Down,” the show’s closing song. Throughout, the show was characterized mainly by Hexum’s vocals, but intense and steady guitar work melded with the bass line to perfectly complement them.

About two-thirds of the way through the set, some gongs and a bass drums were brought out and an extended bass solo was performed by the entire band. This was probably the highlight of the night, as it was a way for everyone to stretch their musical capabilities and perform something the audience likely hasn’t seen before. Though there wasn’t anything particularly dynamic about the presentation, which is what can be said about this entire show, it was nonetheless enjoyable.

As “Down” finished, the crowd erupted in applause. 311 bounded off stage, still energetic, and the venue was cleared in a very orderly fashion. The night had some fine performances, but this tour isn’t one that only a casual fan of either band should spend the money on. Hardcore fans will enjoy themselves, as will anyone who enjoys either of the band’s new albums.

311’s Universal Pulse and Sublime with Rome’s debut album, Yours Truly, are both available now.

 

 

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  • Chris

    I was at the show and I gotta say it was the best concert I’ve seen in a long time. Sublime was the highlight of my evening. The crowds response and energy was so intense and just got crazier with every song they played. Then 311 came on and they were good. I did notice a good half hour into their set ppl started to leave. 311 may have been headlining but you could tell most ppl there were there to see the new Sublime.

  • Hannah

    I’d have to say that the review I just read did not give either band enough credit. 311 and Sublime are both 2 of my all time favorite bands and they both were amazing. It was my third time seeing 311, which never gets old. Seeing Sublime..even with Rome as a new singer was still amazing, as I had never thought I’d get to enjoy their songs live. Both bands playing together is like the icing on the cake. If you are hardcore fans of both,or even just casual fans.. then you should agree that their concert was worth every penny, and I hope to see them again next year!!

  • Jay

    You wrote: “perform something the audience likely hasn’t seen before.” Just by that statement, I am surely confident that this was your first 311 concert ever.

    Unlike most (i know i am about to date myself here) but 311 (and sublime) have delivered for me since 1994! The ‘gongs and bass drum’ is something 311 has been doing during the song Applied Science for more years than I recount!

    Save yourself some face and do some research before writing a review about stuff you are not sure of. You opinion is biased and totally based off your mediocre experience.

    Writing a review should help benefit others experience, not your own.